01 March 2020

Rivers of Consciousness

Room Temperature
Nicholson Baker
Grove Press, 1990
116 pages

Maybe Nicholson Baker has to be experienced rather than summarized. First of all, there is no plot in the traditional sense. The narrator, Michael Beal, muses on life for 20 minutes as he gives his infant daughter, affectionately referred to as Bug, her afternoon bottle. The style is stream-of-consciousness, but here it's on overdrive. The stream relates not just things floating at the top of Michael's mind, but rather every little thought or fragment that occurs in his internal monologue. We get tales of Michael growing up, going to music school and college, dating, and as a young husband and father, mostly in snippets that weave in an out of the reverie.

And what a reverie it is! Michael is very learned, making allusions to literature, science, art, music, history, and culture. The NY Review of Books said of Baker: 
You didn’t read Baker for plot turns or the careful delineation of character, or even for ideas. You read him for sentences and similes that would take your breath away, for pages of description more exciting than any James Bond thriller. 

Before this I read "The Mezzanine", his first book, which is a similar stream-of-consciousness story following an office worker on his lunch hour trip to buy shoelaces. Both of them are interesting and entertaining, especially if you admire the creative use of words. And it helps if you Google the various people and concepts that are new to you. They are also quite funny and quirky.

From various recent reviews, I understand that Baker's style has changed a lot in the 30 years since this early book was published. Now I want to check out more of his work to see where it has taken him.

This is part of my reading for the 2020 Mount TBR Challenge.

No comments:

Post a Comment